The beat-em-up thrived in the arcade era. It was a quarter muncher that had popularity only matched by fighting games. With the death of the arcades, the genre lost its audience as home consoles became prominent. While home ports were successful, as time went on the genre found itself sticking to a niche market for the nostalgic. Developers have attempted to introduce new gameplay elements in hopes of bringing new flair and ways of play, be it with RPG systems and even loot. Yet Samurai Riot by Wako Factory is looking to bring players back to the purest iteration of the genre.
Samurai Riot aims for a traditionalist approach to the beat-em-up with a mentality for the arcade experience at home. With a focus on tougher dificulty and cooperative play, it seeks a return to core of the beat-em-up in spirit. Although Wako Factory has tried introducing some new extras, does Samurai Riot succeed in the quest for the return of couch buddy arcade play?
Before the final blow was struck, they tore open a portal in time
The story revolves around the two playable characters of Tsururamu and Sukane. The two belong to a government order under the command of the Great Master. They are sent on a mission to squash a rebel outbreak in a small village as a Civil War pillages the land. After the first boss, the two are presented with a moral conundrum which turns into one of the games big selling points: choice.
Over a playthrough, players will face three choices culminating in eight distinct endings. The choice screen provides information on the benefits and negatives of each. If in a coop game, when two players disagree on the path to take, this leads to a Player vs Player fight. The winner then determines the direction while the other happily accepts the outcome.
The endings are just small text blurbs with an accompanying image. Sadly they fall flat due to the blandness of the world and characters. This runs through the choices too, making it hard to really care one way or the other. Nothing illustrates the real lack of narrative or character depth better than the choice screen having to explain all the aspects of the choice you are about to make. While choice adds a bit more weight to the game, the only difference is which bosses you end up fighting.
Samurai Riot’s setting is a hodgepodge of Samurai clichés. It opens in what appears a traditional Edo period set piece only to break away into more fanciful interpretations. It mixes and matches and while the references can be charming, it comes off as the developer throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. With little consistency, it is hard to get invested in the world, or the characters.
Going back to the roots and finding weeds
Samurai Riot is a pure beat-em-up. The objective is clear cut: go right and kill everything in your way. The controls are easy enough to gather despite the lack of a tutorial. Characters have access to four moves: Weapon attack, kick, defensive manoeuvre and jump. The fifth is for co-op play which unleashes a move utilising both characters. Players also have a Fury Attack which is a devastatingly powerful move that is usable after a bar is filled through attacks or items.
Samurai Riot is simplistic in nature and this ultimately hurts the game. There is no combo system. The weapon and kick attack each have a sequence of three moves and that is it. These moves do not change regardless of trying different variations. Attacks only have a standard height and even mixing with directional inputs will not change the sequence. It is bare bones action and mashing buttons for most of the game will get players through just fine. Nothing illustrates the lack of depth quite like the Command List in the pause menu which shows everything the game has to offer.
This is everything you need to know to play Samurai Riot. It doesn’t get any deeper from here.
As for the two characters, the main difference is in their special moves. Each have a distinct defensive move with Tsurumaru’s being a block and Sukane’s a dodge. Tsurumaru’s special attack are usable grenades and Sukane has her little fox friend Azu to help her out. That is about the most difference you will find in the characters and the strategy remains the same. Fury attacks also mimic each other, missing an opportunity for deeper strategic play.
As for the enemies, get ready for a lot of clones. Samurai Riot finds its main form of enemy variety through different colours. Each colour indicates a different attack that can be used on the player. For example, the tonfa enemies are all the same except for the blue haired one. She has access to shoryuken style jump attack which players will have to work around.
As for the enemies, get ready for a lot of clones. Samurai Riot finds its main form of enemy variety through different colours.
Players will start associate tactics with colour, but this adds to the growing boredom as the game progresses. Visually, it grows tiresome to see the same enemy over and over again despite the palette swap. A new move only goes so far before you quickly figure out how to work around it and start the repetition. Boss fights are also plain in terms of gameplay strategy. While some might have some special moves, they feel just like normal enemies except bigger and with more health.
That is really the key issue with Samurai Riot: it can just be tedious. While going for a simplistic arcade style romp, it doesn’t really have anything to grab the player. There is little incentive to complete the campaign outside of the player’s own obligation to do so. An arcade run will only take an hour or two to get through (depending on difficulty and if it is in coop). Yet even at an hour, by the last mission you will just want it over with. Despite touting replayability through choices, seeing one path through will likely mean you have seen all the levels and enemies the game has to offer. Regardless of path, the enemies (outside of bosses) will always be the same army of colour coded clones.
Schooling with Fight Schools
Since Samurai Riot has no experience system, money is the main object players will be gaining. Money can be picked up on the field, but the majority of it will come from rewards. Every combat encounter has a rating which will provide set amount of gold coins. The problem is that determining what the ranking is based on is difficult. The only obvious factor is that getting hit will knock down the player’s rating, although this is not always consistent. This just reiterates the issue of the game simplicity as the game is not conducive to the ranking/reward system.
Money can only be used on one thing and that is unlocking new fight schools. Outside of choosing a player character, players will choose which “Fight School” they wish to belong to. Fight Schools determine your stats and provide a bonus ability (they also change colour palette). The stats are broken up as Health, Strength, Agility and Fury. The abilities are unique bonuses that can be utilised in game. One example is that the Frog school allows a double jump instead of the standard single. These can be fun to mess around with but players will only have access to four at the start of the game. To get the others, players are going to have to use that cash they have been gathering.
While the styles are a nice touch they don’t salvage the game’s issue. They can only become another chore in an already monotonous affair. With each purchase the required gold goes up significantly meaning multiple runs will be needed to just buy a single new style. The game doesn’t allow experimentation and all purchases feel blind. Stats are not shown until the style is bought. There is a strong possibility that the ability is tied to stats that don’t gel with the player’s preference in character. While the stats don’t make a significant impact, it is still unfortunate that players have to assume what they will be buying after grinding for money. The abilities do have variety but don’t change the inherent gameplay flow. The unlock requirements are annoying and only add another harsh barrier to a forgettable system.
The Samurai friendship!
Samurai Riot is best played in coop. To put it bluntly, it should only be played in coop. Single player is a chore to get through and does not feel like a rewarding experience. Samurai Riot is a tough game when playing alone and Normal Difficulty will prove quite the challenge. With two players it becomes manageable and more enjoyable. The difference is stark and without a coop partner, the gameplay turns into a crawl and a punishing one at that. If you die, the game will send you right back to the main menu with no continues. A game over can be an aggravating ordeal having to start all over again but at least cash earned is not lost.
This leads to the most baffling design decision in the game: Samurai Riot has no online play. The only way to play co-op is to have a couch partner. Without a friend on hand, there is no point. The simplistic nature of gameplay would work perfectly online with a stranger. Even co-op moves will lead to a prompt requiring little coordination. The game can be played with no communication and still work just fine.
For people who don’t play games often, this could work as a way to test the waters.
Considering the single player is too shallow to recommend, Samurai Riot only caters to a certain market. If you have a friend or loved one you want to play games with and they struggle to get through tough systems, Samurai Riot becomes a strong recommendation. The simplicity allows it to be an easy one for players to pick up and play. This does not overlook the significant issues, but for people who don’t play games often, this could work as a way to ease them into beat-em-ups.
It’s like those (French) Japanese Anime
Samurai Riot attempts to go for an anime influenced style but doesn’t quite capture it. It instead evokes a sense of a Saturday morning cartoon that was trying to bank on that anime popularity. The art style has its own charm but soon enough you realise there just isn’t much variety in animation. It can all feel stilted with characters having very few poses and animation cycles. Character designs are fine but hit a lot of tropes likely seen before.
The game is charming as a love letter to the Samurai genre.
The areas players will run through can also feel barren and bland. They serve as little more than battle corridors as you run to the right. None feature any unique gameplay mechanics, instead going for a linear route. Where the locations shine however is in all the little references littered throughout the game. If you are a fan of Japanese Samurai cinema or anime, something will likely jump out at you. While these are cute, that is the best that can be said about level design both from a gameplay and visual perspective.
The soundtrack is comprised of traditional Japanese instrumentals mixed with hip-hop beats. It is nothing revolutionary yet it does match the tone of the game. The looping however can make these tracks overstay their welcome. It definitely works for the game’s style but none of the tracks will make a significant impact. Over a ten minute long level, after four minutes it can start to grate with the same generic beat constantly booming.
Shallow for the vets
Samurai Riot attempts to roll back the clock and provide players the same arcade experience in a modern age. Yet the time of the arcade is long gone and the beat-em-up genre cannot survive on the basic formula. Samurai Riot doesn’t aim for anything much more than that which is fine, but it becomes a clear miss for veterans. Instead of attempting meaningful changes with the genre, it provides a throwback that just doesn’t work in a contemporary marketplace. Even compared to older arcade classics, it can be a empty experience.
If you are desperately looking for a simple couch coop game that doesn’t require much thought, Samurai Riot can work. It can still be fun but don’t expect it to make much in the way of an impact. If players want a deeper beat-em-up system, there are other options on PC. Samurai Riot‘s biggest offense however is that it doesn’t do enough to grab the player. Despite early promise it soon becomes a tedious chore to get through. Samurai Riot works as a entry level beat-em-up for those testing the waters with the genre. This is especially true if you have a loved one looking to join you in your hobby. Outside of that however, for those with more experience in the genre, Samurai Riot is worth missing.